Tony Dokoupil, 28, is a reporter for Newsweek magazine. He is married, has an infant son and loves playing squash — a pretty ordinary life. His childhood, however, resembled more of a roller coaster ride than any ordinary coming-of-age story.
When Dokoupil was 7 years old, his mom took him on a road trip from Florida to Albuquerque, N.M., where he bought fossils and visited the Petrified Forest National Park. He learned later, though, that the real purpose of this and other trips was to find drug money that had been stashed away. While he was sleeping at his cousin's house in Albuquerque, his mother dug up a cooler containing a quarter-million dollars from the backyard.
On the way back, mother and son couldn't board a plane with more than $10,000 in cash, hence the cross-country trip.
The Early Years
Up until Dokoupil was 9 years old, life was luxurious, safe and comfortable. His father, Anthony, whom he thought was in the real estate business, provided the family with a nice house, money for private school, a yacht, fancy vacations in the Caribbean and pretty much anything the family needed or wanted.
Before Dokoupil's 10th birthday, his father's addiction to drugs escalated and spiraled out of control, resulting in the loss of their income and lifestyle.
"I felt like my world was cracked in two. ... There was a before, when anything was possible, all doors were open. And there was an after, where you had to scrimp," he says. "I became extremely sensitive to labels on clothes — all high-school kids do to some extent, but I feel my sensitivities were more intense."
Anthony Edward Dokoupil was born in 1946 in northern New Jersey. He started selling marijuana as a young man with his friends to support the "good times" they were having, listening to music and smoking pot, hash or taking pills.
Soon, "Big Tony," as he was called, was smuggling tons of marijuana from Mexico, and later from Colombia.
"My mother likes to say that his [Anthony's] personal motto has always been, 'I want to piss in their face and tell them it's raining,' " Dokoupil says. "So, he imagines himself to be a big man who can shape the world to his desires."
Two Decades Later
After virtually no communication between the two men for many years, Dokoupil, armored with a notepad and a recorder, met with his father in Cambridge, Mass., where the elder Dokoupil lives in government-subsidized housing. The decision to reconnect with his father came after Dokoupil learned he would soon become a father himself.
"When the due date was announced, I immediately began thinking about the kind of father I wanted to be, and that left me searching for role models, thinking about my father. And I realized that I kind of wanted to replant the family tree," Dokoupil says.
But the man he met bore the signs of a hard life — disheveled and broke, smoking crack from plastic bottles. But, Dokoupil says, he couldn't really feel any sympathy for him.
"Willpower is capable of overcoming even a chemical dependence ... By telling himself, 'once an addict always an addict,' which has been a mantra of his for years, he was never really required to test his willpower," he says.
Dokoupil, however, remains optimistic that his father's story can be a cautionary and even adventurous story for his own young son.
"There are worse fates than having a father like mine, so I am OK with that. I am at peace with that," Dokoupil says.